Editor’s note: Editor’s note: Daryl Toor, who has worked in marketing and public relations for more than 20 years, is founder of Atlanta-based “Attention.” He writes a regular column on Mondays about trends in marketing and communication.The importance of achieving strong e-mail open rates is obvious when gauging the success of your e-mail newsletters and campaigns. The more people that open an e-mail, the more potential people there are to take the desired action. So what factors drive e-mail open rates? Precision has identified the following 16 factors that influence e-mail open rates:

1. Subject Line: As the single most important factor, subject lines must resonate individually with recipients and provide a compelling reason to open the e-mail. If appropriate, personalize subject lines based on the recipient’s interests, purchase history and other factors. Be creative and use words that motivate people to take action.

2. From Line: Is the from line name immediately recognizable to all recipients? If not, consider personalizing the From line so that it is more relevant to various list segments.

3. Expectations/Brand Relevance: Are recipients anticipating your e-mails? How relevant are your products/services to their current interests and needs? Is your brand top of mind with your customers/recipients? Do they know what to expect when they open your e-mails? Make sure your e-mails support and leverage your businesses’ overall brand and messaging. Strive to have recipients feel like they are missing out on something if they don’t open your e-mail.

4. Content Value: If you are publishing an e-newsletter, is the content in your newsletter original and compelling? Newsletters that merely repackage content from other sources provide value in terms of aggregating and synthesizing. But readers of these e-newsletters know they can find the content elsewhere – and when push comes to shove may forgo opening your newsletter for one that has one-of-a-kind content.

5. Nature of Content: In addition to the actual value of the content, how do recipients actually use the information in the e-mail? Is it an offer for a discount, free white paper or free trial? If a newsletter, does the content routinely include tips and news that people can apply to their business or personal lives or is it nice-to-know information that they can easily live without?

6. Relationship to Your Organization: The nature of the recipient’s relationship to your organization plays a key role in whether they open your e-mail or not. Are your readers irregular purchasers of consumer products, potential clients, existing clients, or information hungry subscribers seeking expertise? For example, a CFO may be more inclined to open the newsletter from his accounting firm (with whom he has an ongoing and personal relationship) than the newsletter he gets from his personal finance software company (from whom he bought a CD-ROM for $99 18 months ago).

7. Subscription Method: How did your e-mail recipients subscribe to your e-mails? Did they find your Web site from a search engine and decide to opt-in? Are they a customer that automatically gets put on your e-mail list? Are you an e-commerce site that provides an “opt out” or “opt in” checkbox during the purchasing/check out process? It goes without saying, in general, that people who have sought out information and then opted in to receive e-mails from a company are highly likely to open those e-mails. On the other hand, if you include a pre-checked sign-up box at the end of a lengthy purchase or registration form, people may either forget to uncheck the box or just miss it in their haste to complete the form. Regardless, how people got on your list is a major driver of their likelihood to open future e-mails.

8. Personality: Personality is critical to the success of an e-mail newsletter. If your newsletter has a strong personality and actual person behind it – your company’s CEO, marketing director, etc. – readers develop a greater affinity and are much more likely to open the e-mail.

9. Spam/Junk Filters: Legitimate opt-in e-mails are increasingly getting trapped by spam filters used by ISPs and corporations – stopping these e-mails from reaching your intended recipients. But junk and spam filters used by the actual recipient count as “delivered” and will go unread as they are deposited into the user’s junk or deleted folder. Microsoft’s Outlook Junk filter can easily filter your e-mail if you use certain words and symbols in your subject line and/or body text.

10. List Quality/List Fatigue: A quality and well-maintained list is your foundation for high interaction with recipients. Focus on growing your list with target segments that are most likely to take the desired action. Long-time list members may suffer from fatigue (Do e-mails from Amazon still get your attention like they did 3 years ago?), so consider segmenting by “list age” and offer inactive customers an incentive to purchase or get reacquainted.

11. Frequency: Do the list members receive e-mails from you (or others if it is a third-party list) daily, weekly or monthly? Mailing too frequently will drive your open rates down. Similarly, mailing too infrequently can cause your recipients may to who you are … and hit delete without giving your e-mail a chance.

12. Time of Day/Day of Week: There is no right or wrong time/day to send your e-mails – only what works for you and your recipients. Test different days and times until you find what works best. If appropriate to your business, consider testing different times for work and personal e-mail addresses in your database.

13. Season/Time of Year: The summer time will generally produce lower open rates due to vacation schedules. Holiday seasons should drive open rates higher for e-commerce retailers, but may produce lower rates for e-mail newsletters and information-oriented e-mails.

14. Recipient Composition: Are your recipients meeting-bound executives, mid-level managers, home-based workers or stay at home parents? Manager-level workers might see your content as vital to helping them do their jobs, whereas executives may view it as interesting to read if and when they have the time. Do you have a high number of recipients using a free e-mail service such as Yahoo or Hotmail? Recipients who use these free accounts typically do not access their e-mail as often as corporate e-mail or paid e-mail services – thus lowering your open rates.

15. Timeliness: An e-mail promoting ticket sales from a professional sports team is likely to generate greater interest during a winning streak than at other times. If you can be flexible, time the distribution and subject line messaging to current events, the weather, developments at your company, or an offer with specific timing and deadline, etc. If you are publishing a newsletter, you may want to include content and a subject line that refers to an upcoming event or trade show, for example.

16. Change in Number of Text Recipients: Some percent of your list members will use an e-mail client that can’t read HTML e-mails, and therefore will not register as “opens” regardless of whether they were opened or not. If this percent stays constant then it will have no effect on your ongoing open rate. If, however, you have a large increase in AOL users, for example, you might see a drop in open rates from AOL customers that are still using older versions of the AOL software.

So what does it all add up to? If you do everything exceedingly well and have a good and clean list, you might achieve open rates for an e-mail newsletter of greater than 60 percent – whereas you’ll be lucky to achieve a 30 percent open rate with less than stellar execution. For e-commerce campaigns, look to achieve open rates of 40 percent or so on the high end, and around 20 percent on the low end.

Attention: www.attentiongroup.com